Originally created 11/30/02

Fans pay tribute to star from Waycross



WAYCROSS, Ga. - A lot of people from Waycross, the late Gram Parsons' hometown, probably never heard of the influential musician.

A pair of his admirers are holding their fifth annual tribute to the musician who restored country to rock when the music was going psychedelic. But for the first time, Dave Griffin and Billy Ray Herrin, who play together in Hickory Wind, are moving their Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute from Mr. Griffin's back yard to Little Knights, a Waycross nightclub, from 4 p.m. to midnight today.

And it's not because of the weather, Mr. Griffin said.

"Last year, the police showed up at 2:15 a.m. Of course, it was longer and louder than it had ever been," Mr. Griffin said. "We had 200 to 250 people through the night. That's kind of what scared me."

Many of the stories about Parsons are rooted in fact, but fertilized with legend.

And devotees such as Mr. Griffin and Mr. Herrin find themselves fascinated.

In 1958, Parsons' father accompanied his family, including 12-year-old Gram, to the Waycross train depot and saw them off for Winter Haven.

"He went back home and shot himself. Terrible," Mr. Griffin said.

That was the end of Gram Parsons' stay in Waycross, but it wasn't the end of Waycross' influence on him.

He joined the Byrds in 1968 and persuaded the group to record Sweetheart of the Rodeo, an album now considered the first country-rock recording and one of Rolling Stone magazine's top 100 albums of all time.

He left the Byrds after a few months and joined some former Byrds, including Chris Hillman, to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Then he moved on to record some solo albums, including GP and Grievous Angels, backed by Emmylou Harris, a young woman he discovered singing in Washington.

Parsons died at age 26 of what Mr. Griffin calls "The Elvis thing," a fatal combination of drugs and alcohol. But throughout his performing life, he always credited Waycross for making him the musician he became, Mr. Griffin said.

"It's as honest and emotional and rootsy as music can get," Mr. Griffin said of the style Parsons played. "It was hard-core country with rock attitude."

Those who don't know much about Parsons' life will probably know plenty of his death if accounts of his failed cremation hit the movie screens, which has been discussed. Fulfilling a pledge to prevent Parsons from having a boring funeral, road manager Phil Kaufman hijacked his body from the Los Angeles International Airport and took it to Joshua Tree National Monument for a nighttime cremation.

"It was such a large fire that it attracted nearby campers," Mr. Griffin said.

The cremation was incomplete, and park rangers found Parson's half-burned remains. Mr. Kaufman and his accomplice turned themselves in, Mr. Griffin said.

"It's facts and legends," Mr. Griffin said.

Mr. Griffin and Mr. Herrin named their band Hickory Wind after Parsons' signature song.

'He was influenced by the same things we were growing up in Waycross," Mr. Herrin said.

Hickory Wind will perform tomorrow along with other groups. The Brooklyn Cowboys, with Walter Egan will perform, as will Lona Heins. Ms. Heins, a backup vocalist, was nominated for a Grammy award last year for her work on The Last Whippoorwill, a song on the Gram Parsons Notebook compact disc released in 2000.